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« Jurassic PR - Josh 154 | Main | Two-sided conversation »

PR Mann

The PR Michael Mann is getting for his book is amazing - one has to remember that it is published by a university press, a route that was once described to me as "little better than vanity publishing" in terms of reaching new audiences. Yet despite this, the hockey stick illusionist has been almost ubiquitous in the media in recent weeks. I wonder if Columbia University Press is paying for this PR or whether there's somebody else involved?

Whoever is behind it, the message doesn't seem to be getting through. Despite clocking up nearly 100 Amazon reviews, the book is currently around 3500 on the Amazon chart (9500 in the UK). Is this a sign of the changed times or is it just that the market for climate books is dead?

The latest Mann media push was an interview on NPR - the transcript, for those who are interested, is here.


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Reader Comments (94)

lapogus: hang onto the day job....

Mar 6, 2012 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered Commentermydogsgotnonose

Donna is obviously right. I would just say that commenting on Mann himself is a very different matter from commenting on his book specifically. And anyone who's read his Climategate e-mails, and followed his public remarks and his response and reaction to McIntyre's work, can have a very precise - and damning - impression of what kind of person and "scientist" he is.

Mar 6, 2012 at 4:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter B

duncan: Demand to know where your cheque is from Big Oil I did email Exxon some time ago suggesting they send me a few bob but they didn't reply. Perhaps I should have asked for millions ....

Mar 6, 2012 at 4:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterRich

you can derive all you need to know from the review by a certain PGleick - no stylistic analyses, please!

Michael Mann -- a world class scientist and communicator about the seriousness of climate change -- has finally put all of the recent history (sordid, indeed) about climate denial, attacks on climate scientists, and serial and intentional efforts by climate "skeptics" and "deniers" (a word many of them self-apply) into a book. As the title suggests, there IS a war on. That war is not really about the science, as Mann shows, but about efforts to confuse the public and policymakers by pretending the science is wrong (it isn't) and by attacking the scientists who are willing to speak about it publicly. Much of the contents of the book is old news: we know about the efforts to slander/libel the work of Mann, which led to seven public formal independent reviews, each of which confirmed the accuracy of his work (described well in the book); we know about the efforts of serial deniers to confuse policy makers and the public (in fact, take a look at how the trolls are being marshalled to insult and criticize the book here at Amazon!).

If you are up in the air about the science of climate change; if you are interested in the true history of the battles between scientists on one side and often-paid skeptics on the other hand, get this book. Toward the end, Mann talks about the misinterpreted, out-of-context emails stolen from a university in the UK, with the observation and famous quote "If you give me six lines written by the most honest man, I will find something in them to hang him." This describes the classic tool of using misleading, cherry-picked piece of information to argue against climate change -- a tool used in bad data analysis, bad policy, and bad science. Mann carefully and clearly describes that episode in a way that -- if you had previously been confused by the rhetoric -- will convince you that the science is stronger than ever.

Mar 6, 2012 at 5:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Much of the contents of the book is old news

And those are the words of a genius!

Mar 6, 2012 at 5:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

PGleick: "each of which confirmed the accuracy of his work (described well in the book)"

This guy is really something else.

And this practice of just inventing your own 'facts', making things up to fill in the gaping holes, or just to replace the more inonvenient reality ..

.. is really endemic on the CAGW-side.

It's like they are all pot-committed, going all-in, there is no turning back ...

(And for them, there probably isn't)

Mar 6, 2012 at 5:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonas N

I took Donna's comment as making two very reasonable points:

1. Presenting a comment on the book as being a review of the book if one has not read it is deceitful. Don't do it. But expressing views about the likely content of the book, if you make clear that is what you are doing, and not on a site such as Amazon where what you write is labelled as a review, seems much less unfair to me. For a start, it is not deceitful.

2. Buying a book, even if you disapprove of the book and its author, is a healthy thing to do, if you think you can learn something from reading it. I agree! Sceptics have argued elsewhere that it would be good for people to read HSI even if they disagree with it. I'm not personally planning to read Mann's book because I'm busy and my judgement is that I will not learn all that much from it - but if that were not true I'd happily pay for it.

Mar 6, 2012 at 5:30 PM | Registered CommenterJeremy Harvey

One thing I wonder: do they have the false tooth with the cyanide capsule?

The Public must know.....:o)

Mar 6, 2012 at 5:31 PM | Unregistered Commentermydogsgotnonose

To go back on-topic, can anyone who is familiar with the way the newspapers work comment on whether the amount of PR the book is receiving is strange? It seems to me that people like Hickman and colleagues in the Guardian see themselves as hacks for the Cause, and would not need much in the way of encouragement to run lots of favourable coverage. I guess some of the other places like the New York times might have similar views. So maybe the only PR effort needed would be simply a few emails from Mann himself?

Mar 6, 2012 at 5:42 PM | Registered CommenterJeremy Harvey

Jeremy - based on the names who gave favourable reviews on the US Amazon as soon as it was released - Tobis, Arthur Smith, Gleick, Mandia, Greg Laden etc - together with attacks on any negative reviews, you have to surmise that there was a degree of orchestration behind the scenes. Surely these busy folks didn't just happen to read the book instantly!

Mar 6, 2012 at 6:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

I have yet to put my hands on Mann's latest book. I did, however, look at Gavin Schmidt's 2009 book, Climate Change. As a book it is beautifully and expensively produced. The colour photographs are stunning. What struck me when I looked at the book is how a publisher was able to produce such a book at such a low price. I thought then that something was going on behind the scenes - though I have no real evidence.
Note: Schmidt's beautiful book received just 10 reviews! Clearly there was little if any PR buzz.
It is now $10 at Amazon, so I might just spring for it for the pictures.

Mar 6, 2012 at 6:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

The NPR spin from the first paragraph was predictable. The stolen documents from Heartland were referred to as “leaked," while the Climategate emails were “hacked.”

Mar 6, 2012 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJason Lewis

Having now read The Delinquent Teenager, I have looked up Peter Gleick's revew on Amazon. Here are a few thoughts.

"This book is a stunning compilation of lies, misrepresentations, and falsehoods about the fundamental science of climate change."

Since the book is pretty heavy on naming names, I expect that the author must be being buried under a pile of lawsuits by now. If she is not, then you surely have ask yourself why not?

"LaFramboise recycles these critiques in a form bound to find favor with those who hate science, fear science, or are afraid that if climate change is real and caused by humans then governments will have to act (and they hate government)."

I find the motives that he ascribes to those who disagree with him interesting. It couldn't possibly be true that there are people out there who genuinely believe in good science and who think that the shoddy science behind AGW alarmism needs exposing.

"See, especially, the section trying to discredit the "hockey stick" -- long a bugaboo of the anti-climate change crowd. Seven independent scientific commissions and studies have separately verified it, but you won't find out about that in this book."

See the problem here Peter, is that anyone who has actually read the book to that point will be fully aware of just how utterly worthless the word of those Seven scientific commissions actually are.

Mar 6, 2012 at 6:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

Can it really be the case that NO ONE is going to ask Michael Mann any awkward questions on his PR tour?

It looks like it may well be.

Mar 6, 2012 at 7:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

Bish, and any other knowledgeable commentator.
Do you have any historic Amazon bestseller rankings for other books to put the 3500th place into context. For instance, where did the Hockey Stick Illusion get to in the charts?

[BH adds: Its highest position was 99 in the UK, perhaps 300ish in the US - I forget)

Mar 6, 2012 at 7:23 PM | Unregistered Commentersimoncm

Regarding this: "The PR Michael Mann is getting for his book is amazing - one has to remember that it is published by a university press, a route that was once described to me as "little better than vanity publishing" in terms of reaching new audiences. Yet despite this, the hockey stick illusionist has been almost ubiquitous in the media in recent weeks. I wonder if Columbia University Press is paying for this PR or whether there's somebody else involved?"

The idea that publishing via Columbia University Press is "vanity publishing" is pure nonsense.

Sorry, check your facts.

Mar 6, 2012 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterCarrick

It seems to me that people like Hickman and colleagues in the Guardian see themselves as hacks for the Cause
Mar 6, 2012 at 5:42 PM Jeremy Harvey

Yes - if you look at the background of the Graun environment team, they're all green activists pretending to be journalists.

One of Hickman's early efforts, which he doesn't care to be reminded about too much now, was a blatant green propaganda book aimed at small schoolkids and titled "Will Jellyfish Rule The World?" (that's after all the humans have been burnt to a crisp, presumably):-

John Vidal wrote a book supporting the green activists involved in the McDonald's libel trial :-

Damian Carrington, of course, was chosen by the 10:10 fanatics for the Guardian's "exclusive preview" of the appalling "No Pressure" kiddy snuff movie.

The Guardian crew also pop up variously at activist demos such as Climate Camp and the like - there's a blog post by a green activist who shared a tunnel at the Manchester Airport extension protest with Vidal:-

John was actually commuting between The Guardian’s office in Manchester and the Cakehole tunnel in Flywood, where he liked to play his classical music underground. He was rather upset when he had to fly to Brazil at the crucial moment and couldn’t actually be there to be evicted.

So never confuse the Guardian environment team with journalists, their priority is spreading the message - not seeking the truth.

Mar 6, 2012 at 7:44 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Test - ignore

Mar 6, 2012 at 7:46 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

The scientific publishing business (Nature, Academic Press, OUP, etc.) has been cleaning up nicely through the basic scam outlined by Feynman a while ago: 1. Force schools to teach from certain books 2. Pay off authors at the schools 3. Regularly update the books with minor 'curriculum' changes 4. Repeat 1-3 to generate obscene profits. One side effect of this has been the 'scientific publishers' have attracted activists rather than scientists (who were too honest to hang around), and climate change and other causes (like 'overpopulation') are enthusiastically covered. This scam on tax payers and students is subsidizing the Mann PR blitz.

Mar 6, 2012 at 8:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

I don't think its fair to lump publishers like Columbia Univ Press in with capitalist roaders like Academic Press etc. (American) university presses generally exist to publish worthy but profitless books which reflect well on the university's scholarship but might well not find a commercial publisher. Whats strange is why a hot shot like Mann, with a story to tell which one would expect the faithful to snap up, got the book published by Columbia. Places of that sort are not to be confused with say Cambridge Univ Press or Oxford Univ Press which are, while retaining close connections to the universities, big publishing business. Perhaps it was Fenton Communications advising him that it would be better, 'PR-wise' to have the book put out by a dull but worthy publisher. Or perhaps the commercial gents were offered it and said 'no', knowing that Leftists are great cheerers but poor buyers. And if it is actually at 3500 on that probably vindicates the commercial gents prejudices.

Mar 6, 2012 at 8:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill


The idea that publishing via Columbia University Press is "vanity publishing" is pure nonsense.

Sorry, check your facts.

And those facts are? Golly, Carrick, perhaps you can explain just what a university press does. I would like to know, if it isn't a subsidized press for academics. Perhaps you have insights I don't have, as I would love to learn more about my current profession, which is publishing. From what I have seen, you have no idea what a university press is, why it exists, or even what it actually does.

But perhaps I am misinformed. Awaiting your edification.

Mar 6, 2012 at 8:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra


Read what I said, not what you think I said.

Mar 6, 2012 at 8:39 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I bought the Kindle edition of Mann's book, and perhaps he will garner enough out of that to buy himself a Latte. So be it. I do plan on providing a considered response on Amazon, to hopefully counter those who blindly and fervently exalt their hero. However, this will take some careful work.

I'm concurrently re-reading sections of HSI (Mann's book represents an 'HSI non-sighting', which is pretty damming in and of itself), along with House Committee testimony as it pertains to episodes Mann's account of history. I want my review to be appropriately researched, so it is taking time.

That said, as has been noted already, there are many, many problems with the book, beginning with the opening line (he get's the date of the release of Climategate wrong, unless he himself is FOIA ;) ). It doesn't get much better beyond that. The problem is that there are so many problem areas that no one review is going to be able to cover even a portion of them. We need many informed responders who can inundate the Amazon responses with substantiated, carefully considered reviews that expose the book for what it really is: a shallow PR scam. So what if he gets a few bucks out of your purchase... Let him buy a few lattes, or more likely a case of beer, or a some other alcoholic beverages. He may need them.

Mar 6, 2012 at 8:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobT

Just checked: 2930 on in books, 5500 in kindle store. Now that is really really odd. For a book thats had as much publicity as this one to have that kind of sales level, makes no sense at all. An Amazon rank of 3000 means the publisher is probably only getting a couple of orders a month for the book. But its publicity wot sells books, isn't it? Ah-ha: a flash of light, a roll of drums: Big Oil, instead of putting out negative propaganda about this masterpiece, have cunningly hacked (remember who was behind Climategate) into Amazon's computers and given the impression that this super soaraway best seller is in fact bombing. And of course Amazon's aptly named poor old Bozo hasn't realised his computers have been got at as he never goes near them these days, not since they learned to talk to each other. F*ckers might start walking soon.

Mar 6, 2012 at 8:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill

I've just read Brandon's critique of the Mann book. It's very forensic and calls the man out for what he is. But the quote from Brandon that stood out for me, where Mann had been discussing the 'trick to hide the decline', and which expresses an opinion I have held ever since CG1 and HSI is:

"This is pure post hoc reasoning. No explanation is offered as to how one can know the divergence means the proxies stopped tracking temperatures in the modern period yet still know they tracked temperatures in the past."

Mar 6, 2012 at 8:52 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

I've just realised my comment about 3000 Amazon ranking = 2 orders a month is completely wrong, I believe I am guilty of projecting. An Amazon rank of 3,000,000 would equate to a couple of orders a month. Apologies all. So Mikeys book is doing not badly and well done Columbia univ Press

Mar 6, 2012 at 9:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill

The NPR interview was conducted over the phone. Dr Mann says

I'm actually at a conference in Hawaii. We're actually discussing problems - the current state of the art in the field of paleoclimatology.

Josh - Suggests to me an image of Dr Mann sitting on a beach, under a palm tree painting hockey sticks.

Mar 6, 2012 at 9:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

University presses *are* vanity presses. For their professors to publish material and fluff material that would otherwise not see the light of the day. Many a time, the books by university presses actually do not see the light of the day, ending up in library basements as soon as they are published never to be issued by a borrower.

I used to feel sad for OUP books warping away in the display shelf I used to catch on the way to our hangout spots during college.

Mar 6, 2012 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

In another cheerleading review from the greenside, NYT's Justin Gillis writes (h/t PielkeJr):

Dr. Mann is focused instead on telling the tale of the hockey stick as he lived it. That is fair enough, but some of the discussion gets pretty arcane, as when he spends many pages on the details of the statistical arguments between him and his critics. It was probably necessary that he do so, but it will be tough going for a reader without much statistical background. Dr. Mann said he hoped that general readers would tackle the book and simply skip the parts they find too technical. [emphasis added -hro]

Oh, well ... this might explain the conspicuous absence of any mention of our host's far superior work: He didn't want to burden his readers with facts.

What a guy, eh?!

Mar 6, 2012 at 9:30 PM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

If Mann has not referenced and reacted to the HSI in his book, then he is in another universe from me. In mine, the HSI is a very respectable, indeed a very impressive and extremely important piece of work on the very topic which Mann has chosen to title his book with. I suspect this is a very informative event, but it is too late in this particular day to pursue it. Suffice to say my opinion of Mann, and his kind, has not been improved during this particular rotation of our planet. More importantly, I suspect the first derivative of such opinion versus time has been negative for a great many people for quite a while, and it looks like this new book is not going to produce a turning point in that particular plot.

Mar 6, 2012 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

I wonder if Peter Gleick's copy was slipped under the door in a manila envelope?

Mar 7, 2012 at 2:20 AM | Unregistered Commenterpapertiger

Mann to Mann?

All his fawning interviews in The Guardian have been boilerplate "well-funded deniers", "disinformation", "vindicated science" and so on.

I am fairly sure that Mann asks for final approval over the content of these interviews, so they all sound the same -- deadly dull and self-aggrandising.

I wonder if the book is similar; a heroic tale of the valiant honest scientist battling to uncover truth and save the planet in the face of a vicious smear and misinformation campaign by evil, greedy Big Oil and its paid shills.

Am I close?

If so, it might work better as a SuperMann cartoon.

Mar 7, 2012 at 2:27 AM | Registered Commenterrickbradford


University presses *are* vanity presses. For their professors to publish material and fluff material that would otherwise not see the light of the day

Just a nit pick, but the Bishop is correct. A vanity press is, in the trade, a press that accepts money from the author to publish the book. There are many such companies out there. While you are correct in arguing that most books published by university presses would normally not be taken on by a commercial publisher, they are not strictly speaking "vanity presses" as they do not charge the author to publish the book. However, they are "little more than vanity presses", existing at the university's expense to feed the vanity of the academics at the university. They are a fringe benefit, like a reserved parking space. It is very rare to find a university press book that actually makes any money, so academic presses are "loss leaders" on the university's budget.

Mar 7, 2012 at 2:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Don Pablo, which part of the concept of "facts checking" are you having trouble with?

If you are in the publishing business (beyond printing your clubs flyers that you copy at Kinkos), you'd know that Columbia University Press is a major publisher, they have over 100,000 titles in print, including a number of top-sellers at Amazon. (Given that there are top-selling self-published authors these days, the fact that a university press is able to do so shouldn't be too much of a shocker.)

I have no doubt that Mann's tepid nonsense could as easily have been published by a commercial publishing house. IMO, the fact he was able to publish with Columbia is actually bit of a feather in his cap.

Bishop, if you meant something different than what I'm reading, you'll have to indulge me. I took the fact of you pointing out it was a university press was a bit of a dig. It wasn't intended that way?

(By the way if you want to look at piffle, try Grant Foster's book.)

Mar 7, 2012 at 3:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterCarrick

@Carrick Mar 7, 2012 at 3:40 AM

I think what's been lost here is the context of the observation - as well as the emphasis! Here's how I first read this - and still do!

one has to remember that it is published by a university press, a route that was once described to me as "little better than vanity publishing" in terms of reaching new audiences. [emphasis added -hro]

My understanding is that in the "book trade", if you want to reach new audiences for your work (as presumably Mann does), then the chances of doing so are probably increased by virtue of the marketing that a high-profile non-UP publisher is likely to do.

If Mann's primary interest is "preaching to the choir", then his choice of UP publisher is fine. Perhaps he knew he could count on sympathetic media mavens to give him the airtime and positive reviews which may - or may not - result in a wider reach.

This may or - may not - end up being equal to the results of the marketing efforts of a non-UP, non-vanity publisher. And in today's increasingly digital world, perhaps the differences between all three are narrowing.

Columbia University Press no doubt does carry with it a certain cachet in academic circles - and if that is his primary target market, then fine. But I doubt that it would carry the same heft outside academia.

As for his speaking/book-signing engagements (which typically would be underwritten by a publisher), perhaps he is reducing his costs (and carbon footprint!) by arranging them to coincide with other business in locales where he was going to be anyway.

Mar 7, 2012 at 6:05 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

I think the reference to "vanity" press was first offered in a specific context, in relation to reaching "new" audiences. also, the Bishop said "little better than" he did NOT equate CUP with a "vanity" press with which an author pays for publication. Presumably Mann's book will reach a significant number of diehard CAGWarmists, but will it have any success in broadening their influence, or not?

Note that some number of books are first published with an academic press to claim prestige but then get a wider circulation with a commercial paperback edition. I don't know how that strategy is being affected by e-books and Kindle, etc., but I noticed that move in the past with some books.

However, what is in question is whether Mann's book will prove to have any scholarly merit at all. University presses used to claim as a central mission to provide scholarly books of small sales potential to libraries and researchers in a field of study. How does Mann's book advance any real scholarly purposes?

Note that I am not pretending to "review" it since I have yet to decide whether it is worth reading even as a "psychological" study of MM..... So at this point I am only pointing out that readers who have serious criticisms may also want to direct attention to the role of Columbia UP in providing its endorsement of the "scholarship" aspects of this book.

The CUP blurb seems rather propagandistic and far from the tone which should be adopted by a "scholarly" press.

Mar 7, 2012 at 6:09 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Hilary, just saw your comment as I was composing mine at the same time. I agree and see that we are thinking along complementary paths. I think that Mann chose CUP for its relative prestige in. The USA, at least with university audiences. Whether or not he will get beyond some "preaching to the converted" is an interesting question....

Mar 7, 2012 at 6:14 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

HIlary, thanks much for the comments. That makes perfect sense. I didn't parse BIship's text correctly and you hit perfectly on the part I missed.

Mar 7, 2012 at 7:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterCarrick

re Grant Fosters book. Any pointers to it?

Mar 7, 2012 at 7:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterTony Hansen


The Bish said that it was once described to me as "little better than vanity publishing".

He didn't say it, although he may well agree, as per Hilary's analysis.

Mar 7, 2012 at 11:44 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Tony Hansen

I searched for Grant Foster on Amazon UK and the first hit was to this:
Long Slow Burn: Masterful Gay Erotica

Nor did I have better luck on the US Amazon. However, on the Lulu site, there is this little book:

The title seems to show the correct degree of spittle-dribbling, rabid fury for it to be by Grant Foster the well-known fabricator of climate statistical anlyses

Mar 7, 2012 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

No, Carrick I don't do club bulletins at Klinkos. I do do fiction as POD and now Kindles and Nooks, and make a few bucks at it. Publishing is a tough business and I don't have the resources of a university's endowments and contributions, not to mention outrageous tuition fees to support my press.

For those of you interested in knowing a bit about the real world of academic presses, you should take a read of this About Academic Presses.

I might point out that Rice University pulled the plug on their press in August 2010. Others will follow. Will that include Columbia University Press? I doubt it, but it will be reorganized. As an alumnus of Columbia College, I am familiar with the financial situation of the university. It is sound, but needing a overhaul. I suspect the PR effort put into Mann's book is in part due to the need for CUP to show a success. At this point, his book is selling reasonably, but that is just the first two weeks. We should revisit Amazon's bestseller ranking of the book in a month. At this point, the faithful are still stocking up. The question is does the book have "legs"?

Mar 7, 2012 at 4:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra


Mar 7, 2012 at 8:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterTony Hansen

Tony...feel free to say if you decided to buy either of the 2 books!

Mar 7, 2012 at 10:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

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